pay for success

How An Innovative Partnership to Reduce Homelessness Has Led to Ground-Breaking Change

For Steve Hardy of Gloucester, the stable home he accessed through the Commonwealth’s Pay for Success partnership to reduce chronic individual homelessness helped to change the trajectory of his life.  In this recent interview with Boston Globe reporter Felice Freyer, he says, “I felt such an intense sense of relief. I was like, ‘Thank God. I have a place that’s mine. I don’t have to worry about snow or rain. I went from being unemployed to having a full-time job and car within three months.” 

Hardy is one of 1,055 individuals that participated in and received housing through the Massachusetts Pay for Success initiative to reduce chronic individual homelessness.   In 2015, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took a bold step to partner with United Way, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Corporation for Supportive Housing and Santander to lead a transformational new approach to creating safe, supportive housing for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness to thrive. 

“The most important factor was the support services we were able to provide with the funds leveraged through Pay for Success,” said Erin George, Director of Housing Services at Action Inc, the Gloucester-based provider that worked with Hardy.  “We worked with people who had a lot of things going on in their lives, and through the PFS program we were able to meet them where they were, embrace the Housing First model, and provide the very individualized case management that allows our tenants to flourish.” 

The initiative set out to house between 500- 800 individuals over a six-year period.  Today, this first-in-the-nation Pay for Success initiative has now significantly exceeded its target, successfully placing over 1,055 high-need individuals into stable, supportive housing, with 85% retaining housing or transitioning to an appropriate care setting.   

Individuals experiencing chronic homelessness are high utilizers of costly acute care services, emergency rooms, and shelters, and many have experienced homelessness for years, according to this report issued by the Massachusetts Alliance for Supportive Housing (MASH), the entity that oversaw the Pay for Success work. To break this cycle, the Massachusetts model focused on providing permanent, low-threshold supportive housing through a network of 18 homeless service providers located across the Commonwealth to those who would otherwise rely on expensive emergency resources.  

According to a 2020 report sponsored by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, individuals housed through the Pay for Success partnership saved an average of $5,267 in total health care costs per year. 

What’s more, the partnership has led to ground-breaking systemic changes such as expansion of supportive services through Medicaid, broadened eligibility for services, an increase in low-threshold vouchers and has demonstrated the power of cross-sector collaboration to solve complex challenges.

While we must celebrate this progress, we also have an obligation to not let the work end here,” says Bob Giannino, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Now, we have a unique window to build on the best practices of what we have achieved in the Commonwealth through our Pay for Success work. We can use the key learnings from the project to strengthen the coordination and delivery of supportive services that empower families, individuals and youth to exit doubled-up housing, emergency shelter and the streets.”

United Way and its partners are looking now toward continuing to find ways to create a flexible pool of state funding, including through new legislation, that would help meet the complex health and housing needs of our most vulnerable individuals and families and fill in critical gaps.  

“The need to provide permanent supportive housing to chronically homeless individuals, families, youth and young adults has never been more acute,” says Christi Staples, Vice President of United Way’s Campaign to End Homelessness. “Homelessness is a public health crisis, and as our state continues to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must reimagine and rebuild the systems to provide safe, stable housing for everyone.” 

To learn more about this work and what’s ahead, contact Christi Staples, Vice President of United Way’s Campaign to End Homelessness, at